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2010 county budgeting process was challenging and unique

WILLMAR -- After two days of sifting through the proposed 2010 budget, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners were satisfied with the end result and the process that was taken to get there.

"This was the most unique, but most positive, process to go through," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said Friday afternoon.

The challenge was heightened because the county will lose $688,000 in state aid through unallotment.

The commissioners gave an informal nod of approval to a $56.5 million budget, which is $3.7 million less than last year.

They're expected to take action on Sept. 1 to certify the levy of $28.8 million, which is a 1.7 percent levy increase from 2009. About $380,000 of the levy is to off-set the loss of state aid.

State law requires the levy to be certified by Sept. 15. Madsen praised County Administrator Larry Kleindl for a process that involved working with department heads to develop a plan to cut expenses that included furloughs and cutting cost-of-living increases in half. "There have been some layoffs in departments," Madsen said. "Everyone's had to share in this."

He said county employees have told him they appreciated Kleindl's "open communication" with them about the budget-cutting plans. "The cumulative effort has been very effective."

Kleindl, likewise, praised the commissioners for "setting the tone" in January and for putting together a "good team" of department heads and employees to work with. "Staff took concessions, and I appreciate that."

"This has been a good experience," said Commissioner Richard Falk.

Commissioner Richard Larson said "no one likes an economic downturn," but it did give the county an opportunity to make some changes. "We're getting some calluses."

Some of those changes will happen in the public works department.

Director Gary Danielson is recommending that the county turn over snow plowing of a larger number of township roads to private contractors, rather than using county equipment and employees. That will provide some long-term savings of man-power and equipment, he said.

"It's a glimpse of what the future holds with this tight economy," said Madsen.

Chairman Dennis Peterson said the commissioners are getting used to hearing the term "bare bones," but said the 2011 budget will be even more difficult to balance than this one was.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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